Passion the Glue That Keeps Franklin County Fair Going

7/19/2014 7:00 AM
By Rick Hemphill Maryland Correspondent

ST. THOMAS, Pa. — The Franklin County Fair has been going on for 106 years and bringing together the local agricultural community at its present location since 1958.

“The fair is about people,” said Robert Eckstine, the fair board’s chairman. “Our’s is a family fair for the kids to come out and have a good time.”

Although the fair’s numbers are shrinking due to the economics of modern agriculture, the exhibitors make up for that with a passion that shines brightly in support of their community.

“A high percentage of our animal exhibitors can go back three or four generations on the farms represented here,” Eckstine said. “This is a labor of love.”

At this year’s dairy show, exhibitors shed their white shirts for purple T-shirts emblazoned with Team Reese to show support for 7-year-old Reese Burdette of Mercersburg, who was injured in a fire on Memorial Day and is still receiving treatment at John’s Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

“She is a neighbor and a good friend of ours, and there are lots of fundraisers going on for her,” said Loretta Martin, whose family milks 250 cows near Mercersburg.

This year, exhibitors endured a thunderstorm that demolished several vendors’ tents and a fire that knocked out electricity for the food refrigerators but fortunately was not near the animals.

“The wiring has been here for some time, and the carnival ride was supposed to provide his own electric, but he hot-wired into our panel and bypassed the breaker,” Eckstine said. “For some reason it didn’t blow the fuse so it caught fire.”

Generators were brought in to keep food cold until the power company showed up to cut the power at the transformer so repairs could be made.

Eckstine said it’s been difficult with state revenues dropping from $23,000 to $6,500 over the past few years, to keep the fair going.

“About eight fairs across the state had to fold up, but we were fortunate we were able to maintain our fair,” he said.

“We own all the buildings here, but we do not own the land” and have to pay rent, utilities and taxes, Eckstine said. “Everything has to be recouped this week.”

About 12,000 to 13,000 people were expected to attend, many of them attracted to the tractor pulls and demolition derby.

“Yesterday (July 10), we started planning next year’s fair,” Eckstine said. “The county is planning to start a poultry club so we will have chickens next year” in addition to beef, dairy, goats and rabbits.

“We try to keep this going for the youth and making this a venue for the city people who come out but who don’t have a clue what farming is all about,” he said.

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